Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close

Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close
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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

WORK FROM HOME FATIGUE: Six months after states began issuing stay-at-home orders, many employees have settled into working-from-home routines that are likely to persist in some form beyond the pandemic.


But with that seismic shift comes concerns about productivity, fatigue and cybersecurity. Those issues are likely to become more prominent as a greater share of the labor force makes remote work a long-term practice.

A record 49 percent of Americans reported having telecommuted in a Gallup poll released last month, and the average telecommuter spent nearly 12 out of 20 days working at home, up from just below six days the year prior. Among college graduates, 76 percent reported having telecommuted.

“Prior to [the pandemic], telecommuting and remote work was certainly practiced widely and was rapidly increasing, but this is a complete left turn in terms of the rapidness telework and remote work has been adopted,” Timothy Golden, a professor of management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that has been studying remote work for years, told The Hill.

Several companies have embraced that shift, especially in the fast growing technology sector.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey made waves earlier this year when he announced that Twitter and Square employees could work remotely indefinitely. Facebook, Amazon and Google have all extended work from home policies for their white-collar employees through the end of the year.

But tech isn’t the only industry making changes. Deutsche Bank last week set an office return date of July 2021.

Some companies have also resisted embracing remote work.


Read more here.


TAKING MATTERS INTO THEIR OWN HANDS: A group of Facebook’s most vocal critics on Friday announced the creation of a group to analyze and weigh in on the platform’s moderation decisions as the company’s own independent oversight board has yet to launch.

The new group, which calls itself the Real Facebook, consists of more than two dozen academics, journalists and civil rights leaders.

Its meetings will be available to the public, with the first one scheduled to be streamed on Facebook Live on Wednesday hosted by New York Times contributing opinion writer Kara Swisher.

Many members of the new group have been critical of the pace of Facebook’s Oversight Board launch.

CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Biden names acting chairs to lead FCC, FTC | Facebook to extend Trump ban pending review | Judge denies request for Amazon to immediately restore Parler Facebook to extend Trump ban pending review Facebook has no current plan to end the Trump suspension MORE first revealed his intentions to launch an oversight board in November 2018, but he didn't formally announce the makeup of the board until May of this year.

The board, which is meant to have final and binding say over whether content should be allowed on, or taken down from, Facebook’s platforms, will consist of 20 experts who are scheduled to begin reviewing content cases in October.

But the board will not be fully operational until after the U.S. elections on Nov. 3.

Read more here.


GOOGLE ELECTION AD FREEZE: Google will bar election-related advertising after all polls close on Nov. 3, a spokesperson for the company confirmed Friday.

The move was prompted by the possibility that final election results might be delayed this year because of the high volume of mail-in voting driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

The ban will be temporary but last at least one week.


Ads referencing officeholders, candidates, political parties, ballot measures or elections will not be allowed, according to an email to advertisers obtained by The Hill.

Ads on election-related search queries will also be prohibited. Google said it will evaluate other ads on a case-by-case basis.

The search engine giant has implemented similar bans before, most recently the election in Belarus last month.

The company also placed a ban on certain advertising around the time that the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March. Some actors, like government institutions and public health agencies, have had the ban lifted while others are still not able to advertise about COVID-19.

Read more.


QANON CONCERNS CONTINUE: Disinformation targeting Latino communities is ramping up ahead of Election Day, when the demographic is expected to play a crucial role in key battleground states. 


Advocacy groups and election security experts alike say material is circulating on social media platforms and online messaging apps that pushes false conspiracies that echo larger disinformation campaigns in English.

The misinformation efforts, some of which reflect the QAnon conspiracy theory, are especially critical in Florida, a crucial swing state where polls show Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Fauci infuriated by threats to family MORE is running behind Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTexas Supreme Court rejects Alex Jones request to toss lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing Samantha Power's Herculean task: Turning a screw with a rubber screwdriver MORE’s 2016 support among Latino voters

Advocates said the misinformation could dissuade Latino voters, who have historically low levels of voter participation, from voting in this year’s election.  

One example, according to NALEO, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that facilitates Latino participation in American politics, is a Facebook page “Cubanos por el Mundo” that makes false claims that the Cuban government is planning a caravan at the southern border to create a migratory crisis before the election to sabotage President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Trump planned to oust acting AG to overturn Georgia election results: report MORE.

Read more here.


A(I) SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: The Trump administration on Friday announced that it had signed an artificial intelligence (AI) research and development agreement with the United Kingdom.


The U.S. and the U.K. formally committed to the Declaration on Cooperation in Artificial Intelligence Research and Development, which is meant to promote cooperation between the two nations on AI development along with recommending priorities for AI planning and programming, including student and researcher collaboration. 

According to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the agreement is the result of a meeting between President Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year, during which a U.S.-U.K. Special Relationship Economic Working Group was established to promote collaboration on economic growth. 

“America and our allies must lead the world in shaping the development of cutting edge AI technologies and protecting against authoritarianism and repression,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios said in a statement Friday. “We are proud to join our special partner and ally, the United Kingdom, to advance AI innovation for the well-being of our citizens, in line with shared democratic values.”

Alok Sharma, a member of Parliament and the U.K.’s secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, tweeted his support on Friday after signing the AI declaration on behalf of the U.K. 

“I look forward to collaborating with our US partners on #AI and advancing our shared vision to harness the benefits of this technology for all,” Sharma tweeted

The move follows increasing efforts by the Trump administration to ramp up investment in AI and quantum computing. 

Read more here.


UNDERWOOD TAKES THE GAVEL: The House Homeland Security Committee announced Friday that Rep. Lauren UnderwoodLauren UnderwoodNew coalition aims to combat growing wave of ransomware attacks Lawmakers call for lowering health care costs to address disparities in pandemic Overnight Health Care: First signs of Thanksgiving wave emerge | FDA says Pfizer vaccine is highly effective, even after first dose | Biden aims for 100 million vaccinations in first hundred days MORE (D-Ill.) will take over as chair of the panel’s subcommittee on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and innovation. 

Underwood, who serves as vice chair of the full Homeland Security panel, will take over the subcommittee chair position from Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondAn attack on America that's divided Congress — and a nation Pelosi to seat Iowa Republican as Democratic challenger contests election results Louisiana Rep.-elect Luke Letlow dies of COVID-19 MORE (D-La.).

Richmond stepped down from the Homeland Security panel earlier this week to take a position on the House Ways and Means Committee, filling a position previously held by the late Rep. John LewisJohn LewisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Harris now 'the most influential woman' in American politics Georgia Democrat introduces bill to bar Trump from Capitol after term ends MORE (D-Ga.).

The cybersecurity subpanel has in the past addressed issues around election security, state and local cybersecurity needs, bolstering the cybersecurity workforce and oversight of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Science and Technology Directorate.

Underwood said in a statement Friday that she was “honored to step into this leadership role to secure our cyber and physical infrastructure in a way that reflects American values.”

She emphasized that “with the 2020 election currently underway across Illinois and the country, this committee's work is more critical than ever before.”

Read more here.


NEW CYBER BILL: A group of bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers on Friday introduced legislation to increase resources to help local governments, small businesses and nonprofit groups to defend themselves against cyberattacks. 

The Improving Cybersecurity of Small Organizations Act would require the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to develop and issue guidance on cybersecurity policies for small businesses, nonprofits and local governments. 

Both CISA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) would be required to promote the guidance, and the SBA would additionally be required to issue a report on the state of small business cybersecurity every two years.

The bill is sponsored in the House by Reps. Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution Democrats urge tech giants to change algorithms that facilitate spread of extremist content Bottom line MORE (D-Calif.) and John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoHillicon Valley: Intelligence agency gathers US smartphone location data without warrants, memo says | Democrats seek answers on impact of Russian hack on DOJ, courts | Airbnb offers Biden administration help with vaccine distribution House lawmakers reintroduce bipartisan bill to weed out foreign disinformation on social media Cheney tests Trump grip on GOP post-presidency MORE (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee. Sens. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenSenate approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee House Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close MORE (D-Nev.) and John CornynJohn CornynTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Limbaugh falsely says Biden didn't win legitimately while reacting to inauguration Top Texas Democratic Party staffers to step down after underwhelming election results MORE (R-Texas) introduced the legislation in the Senate. 

Eshoo said in a statement Friday that the legislation was necessary, as “small businesses, small nonprofits and small local governments can’t afford to hire cybersecurity professionals, yet they are still vulnerable to debilitating cyberattacks.”

Both Rosen and Cornyn separately praised the bill as addressing cybersecurity challenges faced by small businesses and local governments.  

Read more here.


EU TO APPEAL: The European Union announced on Friday that it will appeal a July court ruling that annulled its 2016 finding that Apple owed Ireland up to 13 billion euros in unpaid taxes.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said it is appealing the EU general court's opinion to the European Court of Justice, the EU's highest court.

The commission "respectfully considers that in its judgment the General Court has made a number of errors of law," Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president of the commission, said in a statement.

The commission ruled in August 2016 that Ireland's tax treatment of Apple constituted illegal "state aid" that gave the tech giant an unfair advantage over other companies. The ruling was criticized by U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who expressed concerns that American companies were being disproportionately targeted.

Ireland and Apple contested the 2016 ruling. In July, the EU general court ruled in favor of Ireland and Apple, finding that the commission incorrectly determined that Apple received a selective economic advantage over its competitors.

Read more here.


OBJECTION: An advocacy group for drone manufacturers and developers this week raised serious concerns around a clause in the proposed version of the annual defense spending bill that would ban Chinese and other foreign-made drones, arguing the ban could “hurt the drone industry.”

A clause in the House-passed 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would prohibit federal procurement or operation of certain foreign-made drones, including those from China, due to national security concerns. 

The Alliance for Drone Innovation – which represents major drone-related companies, including Chinese technology group Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI) – pushed back against the clause in a letter sent to the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees this week.

“By imposing a ban on the procurement and operation of foreign-made drones in the final conference report, this provision would be detrimental to the U.S. drone industry,” the Alliance wrote to the lawmakers. “While it may seem counterintuitive, we believe a ban on drones and drone components from outside America would actually hurt the development of the U.S. drone industry.”

The Alliance argued that “manufacturing a drone simply cannot be done today without parts and knowledge from all over the world, and a country-based ban would hurt the Americans who build drones as well as the Americans who use them for recreation, business, conservation, and even saving lives.”

Concerns around foreign-made drones have been tied to strong efforts by the Trump administration and members of Congress to push back hard against China, zeroing in particularly on Chinese tech groups, such as social media platform TikTok and telecommunications company Huawei. 

Read more here.


Lighter click: Reminder that it’s fat bear week

An op-ed to chew on: Congress should help college students bridge the digital divide 



Facebook is turning VR into a platform--but some indie developers fear its power (The Verge / Adi Robertson) 

Trump’s ban on diversity training sends tech companies scrambling (Protocol / Emily Birnbaum)

QAnon leaders look to rebrand after tech crack downs (NBC News / Ben Collins)

Alphabet Settles Shareholder Suits Over Sexual Harassment Claims (New York Times / Daisukue Wakabayashi)